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Harris H. Simmons
Chairman, President and CEO
Zions Bancorporation

It was his father who taught Simmons early on that banking is a service business. It was the day a local bookstore went up in flames. The senior Simmons saw the news story and called the owner to offer help with a line of credit. The bank traces its roots to 1873, when Brigham Young founded Zion’s Savings Bank and Trust Company. The institution then merged with other banks to create Zions First National Bank in 1957, and Simmons’ father assembled an investor group that acquired a majority interest in the bank in 1960.

Simmons joined Zions on a low rung, filing canceled checks when he was 16 years old. He went on to earn a degree in Economics from the University of Utah and an MBA from Harvard University, where he wrote case studies on the banking industry.

He returned to Zions when the CFO offered him a position as Vice President of Finance with plans to groom him for the CFO post. Simmons effectively functioned as CFO until he was officially named so in 1981, allowing him to work alongside his father for many years. Nearly 30 years and 50 acquisitions later, Zions is now one of the largest bank holding companies in the western United States, operating eight subsidiary banks in 10 states.

Taking the lead

Simmons led the business through the tumultuous 1980s as local banks disappeared from the landscape and became part of national organizations. However, Simmons saw an opportunity, steering Zions through years of consolidation by targeting banks in some of the nation’s most attractive markets with the goal of creating market-centric banks with strong local leadership teams capable of being ultra-responsive to customer needs. Zions provides centralized back office services and risk management oversight.

Each bank now has its own charter and board of directors, and they are all tasked with building a great bank in their local markets. The business and community leaders know who’s running the place, which Simmons says is community banking at its best.

Above and beyond in an ever-changing environment

Zions was not immune to the financial crisis of 2008 that roiled the banking industry. But in response, Simmons led his teams to review their portfolios to see which accounts were salvageable and focus on dramatically strengthening the company’s capital reserves.

In recent years, Simmons has focused on adapting his organization to the requirements of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which is pushing larger banks toward standardization and centralization. The institution is spending a lot of resources strengthening, which Simmons says hasn’t been pleasant, but some of the best learning takes place during times of uncertainty.

 

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